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Senators Barnes and Whelan Introduce Measure to Help New Jersey Unemployed

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In an effort to help New Jersey unemployed gain access to the workforce, Senator Peter J. Barnes, III and Senator Jim Whelan introduced a measure last week that would ensure unemployed men and women are not discriminated against due to their employment status by potential employers.

“The stigma of being unemployed can have a greater impact on whether or not someone gets an interview or a job offer than the person’s qualifications or experience, putting the unemployed in a Catch 22 they simply cannot escape,” said Senator Barnes. “We must stop employers from discriminating against the unemployed, but rather ensure they look at the individual, their skills and training and their overall fit for the position when making hiring decisions, providing all applicants an equal footing into the job market.”

The bill would prohibit employers from using an applicant’s current employment status as a factor in hiring decisions.

“Many employers come to interviews with the perception that unemployed workers are lazy, difficult to work with or unmotivated and these false perceptions often block them from interviewing or getting a position. These preconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth for many of New Jersey’s unemployed,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “By outlawing this discrimination, we can prove to New Jersey’s employers that out-of-work individuals are just as qualified and skilled for these positions as those currently employed.”

The bill would not prohibit the employer from inquiring about circumstances surrounding an applicant’s separation from their previous position, considering specific job-related qualifications such as a professional or occupational license, registration, certificate, permit or other credential or the level of education, training or the amount of experience the applicant has when making hiring decisions. The bill would also allow employers to continue to consider only applicants who are currently employed by the employer.

A recent study by Rand Ghayad of NortheasternUniversity found that those who have been off the employment rolls for long periods of time were significantly less likely to receive an interview for a job than those with the same or even less experience and qualifications who were currently employed.  It is thought that this is due to a perceived loss of skills and networks during the person’s period out of work.

The bill supplements a 2011 Barnes-sponsored law that prohibits employers from posting ads that specify out-of-work individuals would not be considered. The bill would authorize a $1,000 penalty for a first offense, $5,000 penalty for a second offense and a $10,000 penalty for any subsequent offense.

The bill has been referenced to the Senate Labor Committee.